We live in a world where information about every sneaker release is at our fingertips, either via social media or here at Highsnobiety. Such accessibility of information has helped the sneaker industry grow at a spectacular rate, but it has also brought with it an element of homogeneity. Flick through a few sneaker and street style accounts on Instagram. How many YEEZYs, Off-White™ x Nikes, and hyped releases from recent months do you see?
Enter @obscuresneakers, an Instagram account whose mission is to shine a light on — you guessed it — obscure sneakers from the last few decades. Stefano Gugliotta, the Miami native and digital marketer who runs the account, has made it his mission to highlight the brands and models that don’t get enough love. Some of the shoes documented are obscure because they’re so rare that no one knows about their existence, whereas others were ahead of their time and due some retrospective praise, especially now old-school sportswear is all the rage.
We spoke to Gugliotta find out what inspired the account, what trends he sees making a comeback, and what it’s like to have Ronnie Fieg and Sean Wotherspoon follow your account.
Why did you start Obscure Sneakers?
I wanted to put my foot in the industry. I always had a love for what other people didn’t love, like smaller brands. I always loved vintage sneakers that people forget about. That’s where I came up with the name.
How do you decide what to post?
We focus on independent brands and forgotten models from the likes of ASICS, New Balance, and Saucony. I want to bring back unique sneakers from their archives. We focus on the anti-hype type of thing. We don’t post Nike, we don’t post adidas. They don’t need the publicity that I could give them.
Are you in contact with brands and designers?
Yeah, they follow the page and I’m always in contact with them. When they’re interested in something or they watch my videos, they message me, and obviously sometimes they do send me some sneakers to review and show.
How do you source most of your images?
So, I have my personal collection, then I also source pictures from the internet, obviously giving credit. And I have a community I call the “Obscure Family.” They always send me pictures to post. They go thrifting around wherever they live and send me pictures. I always do a little bit of research before actually posting them.
What about obscure sneakers interests you?
I’m a big fan of creativity. For example, Avia, before it was taken over, was a frontrunner in technology in runners and basketball sneakers. Sometimes the story behind the sneakers is overshadowed by the hype and marketing that brands such as Nike and adidas have managed to create. It’s not that I don’t like Nike and adidas, but sometimes I want to root for the underdog and help them out as much as I can.
Which era produced the most interesting sneakers?
I would say late ’90s, early 2000s. I think that it was the time when we started to really put some crazy thought into design, either with different types of meshes or different types of midsoles. We’re going back a lot to that era between ’95 and 2003, 2004 to look for inspiration because it was so unique.
And which brands produce or produced the most interesting or underrated sneakers?
I would say Avia. No doubt about it. Virgil Abloh used the 880 as inspiration for the high-top for Louis Vuitton. Let’s just be honest, a lot of other brands took inspiration from what Avia was doing back in the day.
What are the similarities and differences between sneakers today and back in the day?
A lot of the ideas have been done. There’s a lot of good designers, a lot of young kids that are coming up, but it’s always inspired by the past. We’re always looking back at what has been done and we’re trying to refine it, make it a little bit better. Fashion is recyclable. What wasn’t cool in the past can be made cool in the present.
Which of today’s footwear trends do you see in the old sneakers you find?
I think wide-hole mesh is coming back in a big way. For example, Kiko [Kostadinov] did a collab with ASICS not too long ago where he added a lot of different types of mesh to one sneaker. I can definitely see designers and brands experimenting with the mesh, playing with the materials a little more.
Were these sneakers ahead of their time or has the ironic “ugly” trend caused us to look back with rose-tinted glasses?
Yes. I mean, it makes sense. Back in the day, fashion was a little bit more conservative. When something a little bit edgy came out, it wasn’t understood. Now, though, people have opened up a little bit and are a little bit more progressive.
You’ve posted a few Li-Ning sneakers. What is it about Li-Ning shoes that interests you and do you see the brand getting bigger outside China?
Lately, Li-Ning has really pushed the envelope when it comes to design. They’re just pushing the design to a whole different level and it’s incredible what they’re doing over there.
Personally, I think that Li-Ning just wants to stay in its lane because they’re not pushing the American market at all. They don’t want to rival Nike at the moment. They’re happy with owning the Chinese market because over there it’s a sensation. And let’s not forget that there’s more people there than in the US, Canada, and Mexico combined.
If you could pick three sneakers to retro, which would they be and why?
The Saucony Azura 2000. If you see the upper, it’s just absolutely fantastic. It’s like a symphony of panels that just looks insane. The New Balance 1063 because the paneling on that upper goes very well with the wide-hole mesh. And lastly, the New Balance 827 because it’s a pair that I think a lot of people would appreciate.
Rank the three most obscure sneakers you’ve ever posted.
In no particular order, the Reebok Mud Dogger, the DC Cypher, and the FILA Sphinx.
And finally, what is it like to have the likes of Ronnie Fieg and Sean Wotherspoon follow the account?
Ronnie Fieg is a huge inspiration when it comes to fashion. He’s a pioneer in the obscure sneaker world. And then Sean is a cool guy. He was the guy who started that sneaker thrifting trend.